Yachting: Rio venue lacking one thing - wind

By David Leggat

Olivia Powrie (left) and Jo Aleh picked up gold in the 470 dinghy sailing class. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Olivia Powrie (left) and Jo Aleh picked up gold in the 470 dinghy sailing class. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's looking like calm sailing at the Rio Olympic Games regatta in 2016, but in this case that's not necessarily good news for the sport.

The Rio Olympic organisers have plumped for a site near the Brazilian city's airport noted for having barely any breeze.

What it does have over the other option - a couple of hours away and noted for more substantial winds - is proximity to the Olympic headquarters.

Sailors are no strangers to being some distance from the bulk of the Olympic activities. In Beijing four years ago, the regatta was at Qingdao, over 800km away. But Rio's officials want the more inclusive venue.

"There are much better options down the coast and that's what sailors would prefer," Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie said.

YNZ, which was able to savour two Olympic medals in London last month, gold for Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie in the 470 and silver for 49er men Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, is putting plans in place.

They include sending a group to Rio - which may include Beijing gold medal-winning boardsailor Tom Ashley, who has spent time training in the South American city - to work out the training strategies before the Games.

"Financially we know it's going to be expensive, but we've got a lot of stuff to find out about and it's all a bit unknown," Abercrombie said.

The International Olympic Committee has no say in the choice of location and Abercrombie's understanding is that Rio planners are set on the closer, calmer location.

However, there are moves to put a submission to the IOC and the International Sailing Federation to have that decision reviewed.

And YNZ has also put in another submission to try to change ISAF's mind over its choice of kiteboarding over windsurfing for Rio.

The ISAF meeting in May in Italy voted 19-17 to dump the RS:X class in favour of the kites, on the back of its events committee recommendation on events and equipment for Rio.

It caught the sailing fraternity off guard.

Several delegates claimed they voted incorrectly due to sloppy and confusing procedural handling of the meeting; some regions found their delegates voted against their preferred option.

The furore was long and loud.

Countries which had invested heavily in training and development programmes were angry at the budgetary waste and difficulties in setting up kiteboarding programmes.

The annual ISAF meeting is in Ireland in November. The YNZ submission calls for a change of heart in favour of the windsurfers, but with a proviso.

"If windsurfing is the choice, we've asked that kiteboarding be included in ISAF world cup events through to 2016 so its viability as an Olympic sport can be assessed," Abercrombie said.

That said, he acknowledged the general feeling among those favouring a reversal is that it will be tough to pull off.

A first vote requires 75 per cent support for the original decision to be revisited. A rough estimate has about eight votes having to change.

The difficulty for the pro-windsurfing lobby is that countries such as Spain, United States and Australia see kiteboarding as their best bet for future success. Abercrombie acknowledged kite racing "is here to stay".

Part of the problem is the RS:X is not seen as the optimum board.

"There's got to be something better than RS:X but we have invested considerably in windsurfing, have been successful in the past and would like to see it retained."

And the international RS:X association has lodged a request for a judicial review of the vote in London's High Court.

The ISAF has 42 members representing 17 regions and includes New Zealand's Ralph Roberts, who voted in support of windsurfing in May.

- NZ Herald

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